25 An Eldritch Aesthetic

    That brave soul who stood up; he was Gu Jun, Tycoon Gu.

    While the entire school team was utterly discomfited. Even the professor's heads hung low with complex exasperation. They hid and shunned the microphone. Who would have expected, this man would willingly welcome the opportunity to speak?

    What sort of highly valuable views could Tycoon Gu have? Is the abomination within the cage some sort of a behavioural art?

    On the other side, the Qingyun University, Qihua Medical College and the other school's group were perplexed. Is this man some big shot within Eastern University? Why is he seated so far behind?

    Even around him, Wang Ruoxiang, Cai Zixuan and the rest never anticipated that Gu Jun would voluntarily stand up to speak. However, the moment Professor Gu met the gaze of his protege, all hints of worry immediately dissipated.

    "Oh? Young chap, what are your views on this?" slightly surprised, Professor Qin asked and immediately gestured for some personnel to hand him a microphone.

    "I'm Gu Jun, student of the 8 Year Clinical Medicine course at Eastern University," Gu Jun calmly introduced himself.

    Professor Qin's eyes scanned the young man standing in front of him repeatedly. A tall young lad clad in a fitting white doctor's gown. His youthful handsome face exuded confidence which was unfitting of the tense and oppressive atmosphere of the stadium. This young man, could he be someone interesting?

    Beside Professor Qin, all of the other judges were also piqued by Gu Jun's strong confidence and fixated their gaze on him.

    "This thing," Gu Jun said while Looking at the malformed monstrosity within the cage, "looks very much like a banyan tree."

    The air within the stadium immediately condensed and turned suffocatingly thick. It was as if a strange question swept across the entire crowd and dyed their faces with the same befuddlement.

    Looks like a banyan tree? What nonsense are you talking about? Do you think you are a literature student? If you are a medical student, look at this from a medical viewpoint!

    "Haiz, Tycoon Gu..."

    "Banyan tree? Utter rubbish..."

    The students and professors of Eastern University were unsurprised. They had expected this shame and embarrassment from the moment Tycoon Gu stood up. Alas, no matter how little they thought of him within the school, he stood as a representative of the prestigious Eastern University. Compared to him, at least the students of Qingyun University had a word or two with legitimate thoughtfulness. Gu Jun was just a clown throwing away the pride of the college.

    On the other side, Professor Qin's eyes lit up and sharply scrutinised Gu Jun again. By his side, the expression on the judges took a sudden 180 degrees turn.

    "Like a banyan tree..." this was not something they were mentally prepared to hear about.

    "What makes you think so?" Professor Qin continued With a much more serious and stern expression. "Young man, speak your mind. Do not hold back."

    This time, hundreds of people's faces curled up in confusion. Vaguely, they had the same thought. This scene... it doesn't seem to be going the way they thought it would.

    "Can I get closer to the iron cage and see it?" Gu Jun asked.

    "Sure." Professor Qin nodded.

    Under the stupefied eyes of the audience, Gu Jun walked from his seat to what used to be a field and stopped less than one meter from the iron cage. While he may seem calm and collected, many of the bystanders could feel their insides churning. Their jaws were turning sore from intense clenching. Instead of an observation, it felt more like an extreme challenge towards death.

    As he closed in, a strong formalin odour hit Gu Jun's nose. His heart rate was slightly accelerating and his breathing was getting heavier. This abomination gave a much more overwhelming sensation up close than it did from a distance. Here, he could clearly see every detail about the twisted and fused joints. The nerves and blood vessels had broken out of the body. Snaking along the centre, they became thick and long striking an uncanny semblance to that of the roots of a banyan tree.

    The more he observed it, the more prominent the thought became in his mind. It was as though he began to see a unique aesthetic within this vile grotesque monster.

    To him, if one sets aside the judgement of others, his world view and perception would be free and extensive.

    "These human bodies are not randomly twisted together," having the reaffirmation of Professor Qin, Gu Jun began to state his observations. "It may seem clumsy, but what I see is an exquisite and thoughtful design. Their four limbs are all pointing and stretching outwards. Yes, like the branches. Their bodies are like a tree's trunk. In a similar sense, these creeping vessels and nerves are just like the aerial roots. Lastly, their heads... It is evidence of their fusion. I think this thing grows through each successive fusion. Perhaps not just with humans, but also other beings of flesh and blood."

    "Banyan trees can form a forest by themselves. Similarly, this type of living being..." His voice halted. His mind attempted to put words to properly encapsulate this mutilated creature. "It is a whole living system by itself."

    Immediately, the entire stadium was devoid of sound. Banyan tree? Putting down their pride and judgement, the whole area of medical professionals narrowed their gaze onto the creature. Indeed, the more they observed, the more they began to realise. While this analogy was freakish, it was... bizarrely fitting.

    That ball of flesh... it was really beginning to look like a banyan tree.

    Moreover, that last hypothesis from Gu Jun was hair-raising. Not only can this horror fuse with humans, but it can also fuse with other animals?

    "Gu Jun, you have some fine ideas," with an explicit acknowledgement, Professor Qin praised Gu Jun. That one line jolted everyone from their vacant daze. This scene was indeed not right!

    As the crowd attempted to digest all that they had heard and seen, Gu Jun's eyes swerved to the abomination's cage. The white paint was similar to that of the containers in the mortuary. Since the start, he had been perplexed.

    Why was there a need to use this white pain? It can't be that simple.

    Suddenly, it dawned upon him.

    "This white paint is some sort of lime water, right?"

    That again was something that took the judges by surprise. Their eyes glued onto Gu Jun, as though a bunch of strays had just passed by a thick slab of A5 Wagyu beef, thirsting and craving for him.

    Gu Jun continued to present his hypothesis, "We coat trees with lime water to kill the bacteria, fungi, and insects which can become parasitic. When I compare the white paint of the body storage tank and the iron cage, I think they are used for the same reason. Obviously, it is not to keep it clean and sterile. I suspect that this thing is kept in this iron cage. When it is alive, it repeatedly fuses with microorganisms and grows uncontrollably. White paint may not be total protection, but it is still an adequate precaution."

    His hypothesis was utterly reasonable. However, it left the students stunned beyond words.

    How can he even tell? There was no pungent smell. Isn't the white paint just for decoration.

    "Gu Jun, you are very observant, imaginative, and have a sharp judgement," Professor Qin praised Gu Jun once again. This time with a little more kindness and warmth on his face.

    Similarly, a pleasant surprise flashed across the faces of the other judges. Broad bright smiles lit on the panel's as they nodded their heads.

    A silent uproar blazed the crowd! No one seated here was a fool. They could easily see for themselves that Professor Qin was more than satisfied with Gu Jun. His views seemed to have gotten sky-high acknowledgement.

    The Eastern University students straightened their backs and thrusted their jaws forward. Looking at the Qingyun University's seat opposite them, they flaunted their wide grins, showing off their most potent weapon in this competition.

    Did you see that? Let me introduce him to you. This man is our secret weapon, Gu Jun!

    On the other side, the heads of the students from Qingyun University hung low. This time, Eastern University had a resounding victory. Then again, who's this Gu Jun? In the past, they had never seen his face in a clinical skills competition. Within the school team, Sun Yuheng, Yang Ming, and the rest exchanged confused glances. How did he even manage to see a banyan tree within this mess?

    Like a proud father, Professor Gu too sat with his head held high. He was saying smugly to a student beside him, "Rascal, I overheard that you think Gu Jun bribed me?"

    Wryly, the student averted his gaze and laughed, "HAHA! Professor Gu, how would I dare to think so..."

    From his seat, Cai Zixuan cheered softly for Gu Jun. Beside him, Wang Ruoxiang felt as if she had become Wang Zhenxiang1 and was smiling warmly as her head tilted in the direction of this genius.

    Aiyo, what an unexpectedly pleasant turn of events. This was a truly serendipitous accident!

    "Gu Jun, you are indeed talented." Professor Qin walked closer, sizing up Gu Jun. Within his heart, he yearned to test the limit of Gu Jun's mental and psychological strength. After all, their ability to resist stress and fear, not collapsing, and going crazy from pressure were critical considerations in their selection.

    On the spot, Professor Qin decided on a higher-level test. He said, "Why don't we enter the cage for an even closer look. But let me warn you beforehand, something terrifying may occur." Hearing this, the faces of the other judges bleached.

    Wait a minute. Let's stop there shall we? Scaring him away would be a massive loss for our department!

    Everyone was stumped. Gu Jun had already drawn such great limelight onto himself. There was no reason for Professor Qin to...

    "No problem." Gu Jun did not even hesitate. Without delay, he took out the disposable mask and gloves in his coat's pocket.

    He came here today to clinch the top position. There was nothing to fear.

    Kacha! The staff opened the cage. Steadily, Gu Jun took a step without faltering. Along the cage, he strides forward. With every step, he grew closer to that humongous eldritch abomination. The crowd watched on and swallowed a dry gulp. Unconsciously, beads of sweat formed on some of the students' foreheads. Whereas the anxiety had halted the breath of others. Watching on, the psychological trauma and tension got the better portion of them. Sounds of vomiting, and even dry vomit pierced through the silence. One of them was the brawny Xu Hai.

    PENG! The doors of the cage slammed shut. A slight tremor rippled across the cage, slightly shaking the monster tree.

    At this moment, all eyes were on Gu Jun who was standing alone with the monster.

    Somehow, Gu Jun could feel it. The gaze included the 10 odd pairs of eyes on this malformed humanoid banyan tree.

    Zhenxiang --- a play on Wang Ruoxiang's name. A colloquial online term widely used to describe a pleasant turn of events, especially so in the event that should not have happened.
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